Transferring performativity from speech to writing: Illocutionary acts and incantation bowls

Daniel James Waller*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    This article considers the interface between orality and textuality in the Aramaic incantation bowls, as well as the use of performative utterances in the texts of their spells. It demonstrates that writing and writtenness were central to bowl praxis as a whole, and argues that the bowls reflect a growing understanding of writing as performative in itself. In light of this, it suggests that the use of illocutionary acts in the bowl texts reflects the (gradual and ongoing) transfer of performativity from speech to writing in Sasanian Mesopotamia. Such acts of "word magic" in the bowls as oaths and curses are more likely to represent transitional language or a kind of "oral residue" than the verbatim representation of speech or spoken acts.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)233-244
    Number of pages12
    JournalBulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1-Jun-2019


    • Aramaic incantation bowls
    • Illocution
    • Material studies
    • Orality
    • Textuality
    • Written performatives
    • JEWISH
    • POWER

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